By: Lynn H. Cohick
There is a reason I like doing podcasts rather than writing blogs – I often don’t know what I think until I hear myself say it! (Paraphrased from a quote by Flannery O’Connor).
But the discipline of writing down ideas and shaping arguments is a necessary one for me, as it helps me process the world around me. I slow down enough to type, and I have to think sequentially, sentence by sentence, rather than the pinball approach that sometimes happens as ideas spill out of my mouth.
The discipline of writing also forces me to engage with wider conversations, and move out of my own head and comfort zone to be a part of a community discussion. It gives me space for reflection, weighing arguments, and observing trends.
Last year with much help from my terrific colleagues at Northern Seminary, I started a podcast, the Alabaster Jar, dedicated to promoting women’s voices in the church and academy. We launched the Center for Women in Leadership, with the hope of creating a community for women and men to thrive in their calling (https://www.cwlnorthern.com/). We held a conference in October 2021 called “Tov for Women,” based on the book, A Church Called Tov, co-authored by Scot McKnight and Laura Barringer. We have plans for a second “Tov for Women” conference in October 2022! We also started an MA in Women and Theology, and I taught two courses: Women in the Early Church and Women in the New Testament, to both men and women. These three things – the classes, the conference, and the podcast – have brought me into a thriving community of women pastors, educators, ministry leaders, and authors. I’ve been inspired by their transparency, resiliency, passion, and conviction that sets out to make a positive difference.
I have also been struck by several encouraging trends.
First, women are hungry for change. They are non-apologetic about the insufficiency of the status quo and ready to move out of toxic spaces and into life-giving places. This takes tremendous courage, and a community of support – and women are showing up for each other and encouraging each other. Women are challenging their denominations to do better by them, and if the request goes unheeded, they are more than prepared to head out the door. Women are well aware of the cost in terms of broken relationships and rejection, but they move ahead. As one of my students, Caryn Rivadeneira, affirmed, they believe that God is for them.
Second, women are looking at Scripture closely, and are calling out bad exegesis. Bad exegesis uses one or two passages (you know which ones I’m talking about!) as bludgeons to silence women and gaslight them. Women are tired of the worn-out tropes that label and marginalize women of the Bible: prostitute, sexually suspicious, uppity. Even Mary the mother of Jesus, does not escape; poor exegesis over-emphasizes the possible moment of social shame as Mary could be labeled an unwed, teenage mom. Behind this argument lurks a veiled threat to all women that social ruin is a mere accusation away, while men like King David can overcome their stain of adultery and murder to be role models. David’s actions, clearly condemned by the prophet Nathan, reveal a man with absolute power who used it against Bathsheba (2 Sam 11:1–12:13). Today David’s deed would be classified as rape. Women (and some men) are challenging the exegetical obsession with sexuality around women in the Bible. They rightly protest assumptions about Bathsheba’s flirtation (she was performing a menstrual purity rite, not splashing about in a jacuzzi). They allow Mary to be the prophet she is, letting her Magnificat ring out. (Don’t get me started with the Samaritan woman!) Exegetes are now seeing that God is for women.
Third, women are correcting sexist history and retelling the church’s story with clear-eyed attention to the sexism and misogyny (I don’t use that term lightly) that has infected church leadership across time and denominations. These new histories expose the way women’s leadership has been ignored or downplayed. They highlight the modern cultural embeddedness of claims that relegate women to the margins in church leadership structures. These challenges to the hierarchical status quo demand that the church behaves according to the biblical truth that God is for women.
Fourth, women are speaking up, and taking responsibility for their voice in their community. For example, white women are leaning in to hear from women of color, to stand together in common struggles, and to support each other in struggles that are unique to a given community. This is not merely strength in numbers, this is strength in stories that demonstrate the power to change their spaces of influence. Women are for other women because God is for women.
I’m going to add a fifth point – women are now able to talk about failures, about fighting against perfectionism, about being OK with being OK. Women face overwhelming pressure to be extraordinary so they can have a seat at the table. This unfair and unsustainable burden is recognized for what it is and is challenged. This is great news: it means we are living into our authentic selves. It means we can challenge social (and ecclesiastical) stereotypes that drain away our energy, minimize our competency, and mute our unique voices. It means we are confident that God is for women.
I want to keep the momentum going. Women must be vigilant against sexism in the workplace, the home, and the church. Those with privilege, such as myself, must work for change for all women. The efforts are worth it because God is for women.
Lynn H. Cohick (Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania) is Provost/Dean of Academic Affairs at Northern Seminary. Prior to coming to Northern Seminary, Lynn served as Provost of Denver Seminary. She was Professor of New Testament at Wheaton College and taught at Nairobi Evangelical Graduate School of Theology in Nairobi, Kenya. She serves as President of the Institute for Biblical Research. Her books include The Letter to the Ephesians in NICNT (2020); Christian Women in the Patristic World: Their Influence, Authority, and Legacy in the Second through the Fifth Centuries (co-authored with Amy Brown Hughes (2017); Philippians in the Story of God Commentary (2013); Ephesians in New Covenant Commentary (2010); Women in the World of the Earliest Christians (2009).